Friday, September 30, 2022 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu
We all love night rain, don’t we? But not the morning after. Except, of course, you happen to live in certain parts of the Centre of Excellence. I wake up this Sunday, full of oomph and vim having savoured the soporific downpour the night before. But the morning after, this very morning seems a different kettle of fish as I discover to my chagrin. Sundays are not for mourning of any sort but for rest, for relaxation and for the religious-minded, for worship of the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. I set forth at dawn for an appointment, from my base at Gberigbe in downtown Ikorodu heading to Ikorodu Garage, from which place I am supposed to board a BRT bus onwards to my destination around Yaba. Due to the bad roads, I decide to pack my car in the compound of a Good Samaritan, near White House and take an okada instead. Boarding an okada in this area is inevitable, and you must have your life in your hands as you and the okada cyclist navigate the endless potholes, puddles and ponds that have made the single artery utterly unmotorable – a sea of okada with dare-devil korope mini-buses braving it with the okadas. Here and there, you see korope buses stuck in a puddle, the driver either at large or standing in the rain near his stricken vehicle, looking askance, and probably cursing his luck, on this beautiful, pattering Sunday… First leg of my trip successful! We have made it to Gberigbe in one piece, my Sunday best spick-and-span! Whow!
I thereupon board a korope (so-called because of its small-size and apparent durability, korope!) mini-bus on which passengers are crammed like condemned convicts on death-row. The trip to Hell commences in earnest… The rain again, the rain begins to fall and the road is flooded. But, mercifully, lining on either side of the road are an assortment of shops, in which motor-parts are sold. There are also vulcanizers, mechanics, tyre-sellers, and so forth. Thank goodness, we are in luck, nothing dey pa! Amidst the topsy-turvydom of the life-and-death trip, some agberos, (street toughs) still bustle about in the pouring road collecting levies from drivers. They collect lots of money by force from drivers without issuing them receipts in return. Woe betides the driver who tries to resist paying as the cudgel-wielding, cursing and foul-mouthed ghouls will have him for breakfast. Our driver tries to hesitate complying and there is a ruckus on the bus as we harangue him to pay up and get going. He pays up and we depart, finally.
Some of us, passengers, start our national pastime, namely complaining: where does all this money agberos collect go? Who accounts for these levies? Why are all our roads in such bad shape despite our payment of taxes, levies, the never-ending extortions? While we are all grumbling and griping on our bus, we see a fight between a driver and an agbero with two or three policemen looking on, standing nearby. We all just hiss and continue with our “national analysis”… Less than a kilometre from Gberigbe, our bus breaks down! The driver, who has collected our fares, refuses to refund our money. He insists he has paid agberos, and tipped the police. What to do? We all, driver and passengers alike, get off the bus right in the middle of a puddle. Knee-deep in flood-water, we begin to suggest solutions to the problem at hand. Water has infiltrated the bus plugs; the gear cannot engage; the wipers are dead, holding their hands up on the windscreen as if in half-hearted prayer… This passenger takes off his suit; that one removes his agbada; and the rest of us remove our shoes and begin to push our bus. Cars, buses and trucks just speed by, abandoning us to our fate. For a moment, a thought flashes through my mind, seeing our fate as metaphor for our nation, but I shoo it off.
This is no time for high-minded flights of fancy. While we remain bedraggled like ill-fated owls in the rain that is falling with ceaseless ardour, I take in our immediate surroundings. I cannot see the gutters any longer. The flood-water has swallowed them completely. The road is being rehabilitated by an Egyptian company but the rehabilitation work has gone on forever… Furthermore, side-streets are ravaged by erosion, abandoned vehicles, kiosks and stalls selling hand-me-downs and other cast-offs from affluent foreign climes as well as Made-in-Nigeria fakes litter everywhere. These items include generating sets, standing-fans, artificial hair and eye-lashes and nails, shoes and body lotions. Hours later, our bus is restored to tolerable health, courtesy a roadside mechanic. But by now, I have missed my appointment, so what’s the point? Why go on? Maybe I should return home. No, I need to have a face-time meeting with some friends who, I’m sure, are still awaiting my arrival. We depart. At last, we get to Ikorodu Garage!
In today’s Nigeria, things are much worse as politicians ride roughshod over the delicate sensibilities of the people, cock-sure of victory at the polls, thanks to the power of the shadowy selectorate.
The bus dislodges its inmates into a petrol station where a motley crowd of stranded rain-drenched commuters huddles together, under the roof of the filling station. I take fright in a trice at a possible accident with people making and receiving calls. I remember numerous petrol-fire accidents; I remember Rumuekpe (Rivers), Nembe (Bayelsa), Gloryland Estate (Lagos), Oviri Court and Adeje (Delta), Jesse and, mother of them all, I remember Koko! We have lost thousands of our fellow compatriots to petrol accidents and I’m not about to add to those tragic statistics. So, I hurry off back into the rain. Water over fire for now, and, perhaps, every time if I have a choice in the matter.
I board a BRT bus after an hour wait at the terminal. 44 passengers are sitting, 99 standing. On the bus are fun-seekers, merchants of superstition (read: faith), some of them oozing cheap perfumes that remind you of Hausa sosorobia of yore; some are coughing without covering their mouths in this Age of Covid-19. Other passengers are eating their brunch, served in disposable dishes, and as the rain continues to hammer down on the prostrate sodden earth, passengers sitting close to the windows slide all the vents close, thereby turning the bus interior into a steaming casket on wheels with a fog of bad breath and nauseating burps hanging in the air… While I remain on my feet, clinging desperately to one of the vertical poles, I try, as is my habit, to distract myself with the sights and sounds (not smells, though!) of the speeding city-scape. On the other side of the road, Ikorodu Road, that is, it seems as though all the vehicles have died, literally. No movement, whatsoever! What’s going on here? That’s my way home, Holy Mackerel! What type of Go-Slow is this, ehn? Look out! Ah, traffic criminals are at work! Some young boys in hoodie dart around, moving from car to car, tapping on side-glass and dispossessing commuters of their valuables! Even so, hawkers of groceries, confectionaries and electronic accessories and all whatnot carry on as though nothing untoward is happening right under their noses. No matter, I bring out my cell-phone and start going through social media. Oh, it’s a nation-wide downpour! It’s raining here, and I suppose, everywhere as traffic snarl-up is being shown on the Lagos Ibadan Expressway, the Benin-Ore Road as well as the Okenne-Abuja Road. Breaking News: “Bandits are operating along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway”; “There’s total chaos along the Warri-Port-Harcourt Road as erosion has dug a huge crater on the artery”. “Abductions and kidnappings-for-ransom as well as herder-farmer conflicts going on …” A gallop on the Ikorodu Road brings me back to the present and immediate world. I switch off my hand-set and put it back in my pocket. What the hell!
I see a huge poster displaying a group of politicians who calls itself “The Winning Team”. And, remarkably, this “Winning Team” of politicians is ostensibly soliciting votes from the long-suffering disinherited and pauperised electorate, including me! On top of that, they are beaming with beatific smiles of satiety amid the universal privation and chaos they have spent years creating themselves! In a classic instantiation of life imitating art, I find this poster plastered to a humongous garbage receptacle similar to the electioneering posters adorning garbage bins in Tricia Nwaubani’s novel entitled I Do Not Come To You By Chance. Thus using the ignoble Advance Fee Fraud aka 419 scamming operations as leitmotif in the novel, the narrator pitilessly excoriates the Nigeria political elite whose hobby-horse is to hoodwink the credulous, amnesiac masses with bogus promises and jaw-dropping IOUs they never intend to keep, after gaining power. In today’s Nigeria, things are much worse as politicians ride roughshod over the delicate sensibilities of the people, cock-sure of victory at the polls, thanks to the power of the shadowy selectorate.
Again, I’m brought back to the immediate by the sudden stop of the bus at Fadeyi bus stop. Time check: it’s almost 4 ’O clock! My journey ends here; my friends by now will have gone home. I take the overhead bridge to the other side of Ikorodu Road and catch another BRT bus going to Ikorodu Garage. After another one and a half hour of waiting for passengers, the bus finally departs. Silently, I begin to pray that the traffic will have disappeared, that dead metallic serpent that snaked into infinity… and that I get home before midnight.
Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos